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At the heart of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps debate is the question: Whom does Brown University exist to serve? Ostensibly, it is the students, though the mission statement claims it's "the community, the nation and the world," so perhaps it's one of those train-and-educate-the-students-who-are-our-future kind of things. Thus, it could be argued — and, indeed, has been argued — that a necessary component of serving the nation and the world is the training of armed forces, which then raises subsequent questions about military force, state-sanctioned violence, humanitarian interventionism etc.

A lot of the opposition towards ROTC, especially at the Ivy League level, rests its case on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell — which hasn't actually been implemented yet — and a lot of the concern surrounding that issue deals with the American military as an institution — its treatment of homosexuals, women, minorities etc. There are other charges, of course, most of which are laid out cogently and incisively by the Brown Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC. But I'm not going to take up these arguments or positions today. Instead, what I'd like to do is talk about this question in an honest and open way. What do we really mean when we say we advocate or oppose the formation of an ROTC program at Brown?

Let's be real. ROTC trains students to do a lot of different things, and one of the central things it teaches is military tactics, which really means, fundamentally, judicious violence. That's it. It becomes increasingly complex once we go beyond this starting point — a quick Wiki-skim reveals all kinds of erudite terms and explications — for example, economy of force, fortifications, electronic countermeasures, rapid dominance, circumvallation, planned attack. But the fundamental fact remains that students are trained in the art of violence, for the ends of the state, be it for noble or not-so-noble reasons.

This is fine. There are times when a country or a political community needs to exercise collective violence against another entity or persons to prevent things like genocide, totalitarianism etc. But that's not the question I'm asking here. I want to ask, honestly and directly, whether it's a good idea for Brown to train students to potentially hurt, damage or kill other human beings.

Some more honesty: When I see a uniformed member of our armed services traversing the Main Green, my first physical and emotional reaction is a tinge of fear and anxiety. Is this monstrous? Is it awful that I'm not immediately flushed with feelings of admiration and esteem? I have to say, I feel extremely guilty about this. There are countless ways in which I actually believe the U.S. military is a righteous, courageous and honorable force, so why is my gut reaction to uniformed personnel so adverse?

There are a ton of reasons, and I don't want to get into any one specifically, but if you're willing to tolerate some word association, my explanatory hodgepodge would resemble something like, Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Afghanistan, authoritarian military regimes, Indonesia, Vietnam — you understand where I'm going with this.

Again, this is all totally unfair, and I recognize that, which is why I bring it up. I am attempting to argue that we should not let these distressing associations color our views of the ROTC project. Instead, we should revert, disinterestedly and calmly, to the former question: Should Brown University teach students how to be judiciously violent at the behest of American foreign policy?

Look to the mission statement. Brown holds that the best way to serve the community, the nation and the world is through the exchange and preservation of knowledge and the fostering of "free inquiry." In essence, a university education is about the formation of principles — political, moral, social or otherwise. Thus, if the ROTC project hopes to be instituted, it must agree with that objective.

Is the ROTC program ready to subject itself to curricular restraints? Are its instructors prepared to cooperate with their fellow academics and administrators? Would it be totally ludicrous to require ROTC to allow students not intending to enter the armed forces an opportunity to take a class in military history, war ethics, tactics etc.?

Are ROTC recruiters and instructors open to critical discussion about the subject matter during office hours, lectures or seminars?

I'm not sure I know the answers to these questions, but it seems to me they are important ones. If ROTC wants to make an argument for its implementation, it must address these concerns, as well as justify how its objectives align with the overall goal of free knowledge and free exchange.

Again, the dispute could go either way. This is still an open question. I only hope that we can, from this point forward, talk about the question in a real, non-euphemistic way. I'm just saying.

Anthony Badami '11 is a political theory concentrator from Kansas City, Mo. He can be contacted at anthony_badami@brown.edu.


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